Reason to Bake is a small-batch bakery located in Transylvania County specializing in gluten-free, made-from-scratch, non-GMO cookies. The company was founded on the principal of, “doing well by doing good.” To realize this mission, Reason to Bake is committed to hiring and training intellectually disabled adults as part of their company culture. Owner, Elise Sampson, started the business in 2014 with her daughter Carolyn who has special needs. Their shared passion resulted in the creation of a specialty food business with a social contract. Sampson, having always valued the benefits of a gluten-free lifestyle had experienced difficulty finding products that aligned with her diet. “A lot of people choose to avoid gluten in their diet because of the added benefits. But for some, like people with celiac disease or Crohn’s disease, a gluten free diet is life sustaining. We wanted to make cookies that everyone could eat and enjoy,” explained Sampson.
During the early stages, Sampson and her daughter rented the kitchen at Quotations Coffee Café and baked their cookies in the evenings to sell at the cafe and at the Transylvania Farmers Market on the weekend. As sales grew, the business expanded into other local retail stores including Appalachian Coffee Company, Food Matters Market, Whistlestop Market, the Cashiers Farmers Market and the Black Bear Coffee Company in Hendersonville. According to Sampson, the company’s ability to steadily build relationships with locally minded retailers helped her and Carolyn realize and establish steady growth and build brand awareness. “We knew we had developed a great product and by starting local we would eventually be able to grow into regional markets. We also knew that in order to scale our business we would need additional skills and expertise,” Sampson added.
Along the way, Reason to Bake built a strong network of partners capable of sharing, guiding and troubleshooting issues as the business developed. According to Sampson, “Each person and organization contributed in tangible ways.” The business took advantage of Blue Ridge Community College’s Small Business Center, specifically learning about various marketing techniques and social media skills. The Transylvania Economic Alliance helped locate a commercial kitchen which aided in expansion and production gains. Board leadership at the Alliance also worked to connect the business with nearby Clemson University’s, Food, Nutrition, and Packaging Science program who ultimately were so impressed with Sampson they assigned a student team to conduct distribution-packaging tests to ensure packaged cookies could be safely transported. Clemson students also tested the ingredients to determine shelf-life and perform a nutritional analysis to create an official and accurate nutritional label.
Reason to Bake is currently a team of three with plans to increase operations in the coming months. In May 2016, the company will present their product to Earth Fare, Inc. in hopes of becoming a certified vendor. “We want to continue to pursue a regional market to support our vision of increasing sales and to continue to hire and train more adults with special needs,” said Sampson. “We’ve calculated our production capacity and if Earth Fare decides to be a distributor, we’re going to launch a crowdfunding campaign to help raise capital to purchase the equipment needed to reach this milestone.” To learn more about the company, and to sign up for their newsletter, visit www.reasontobake.com.